BWW Interviews: Nigel Lythgoe Reveals Big Changes for New Season of AMERICAN IDOL, Premiering Tonight!
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by Caryn Robbins
Nigel Lythgoe has been a pioneer in reality television and a driving force in the world of performing arts as the co-creator, executive producer and judge on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and the executive producer of the TV juggernaut AMERICAN IDOL.
Lythgoe spoke by phone about the long-running singing competition and revealed the big changes in store for the 12th season which kicks off tonight!
"We've done quite a little interesting thing with the auditions," begins the EP. "We've actually taken an American Idol bus out to the little towns this year with a producer on board who have brought kids back in to the audition; kids that wouldn't necessarily be either close enough to one of the cities we were at or even have the financial means to get to one of the big cities. That introduced new talent to us I must say."
In addition, this season offers a new opportunity called 'I Nominate' in which friends and family nominate someone they believe has a great voice but are just too nervous to show up for an audition. "Randy Jackson actually went out and we did some hidden camera stuff and shocked them and surprised them, and then gave them an audition number so that they actually skipped the lines and everything, came straight in to see the judges if Randy agreed them," explains Lythgoe.
Viewers will see changes to the traditional 'Hollywood Week' as well. "We split the weeks up and gave a week to the boys and then a week to the girls, which really gave us an awful lot more focus on our talent this year that allowed us to see the woods through the trees, if you will," he offers. "We're going to continue to do that during the Vegas rounds as well up until the point we get to our top ten."
Lithgoe also has some new ideas to enhance the weekly results shows, including allowing viewers to see the rankings of the remaining contestants. "I've always been stopped from doing it with people saying, 'Oh no people will stop voting if you show that the one person is always winning.' You know like a Carrie Underwood who won every week people will stop voting. We always fought that back and said, "Well, no, just because my soccer team is number four in The League doesn't mean to say I'm going to stop supporting them. I'm going to support them more and try and let them beat the people in front."
Taking the idea one step further he adds, "I also like the idea of doing sort of conferences like the NBA does and say, 'Let's see how the West voted for you. Let's see how the East voted for you. Let's see how the North voted for you,' so you can see where the votes are coming in from. I think that would be fabulous. I think it would be exciting. I think we'd see if they've got home town support. It's very interesting when you've got a Hawaiian contestant how that can sway the vote when every island votes for goodness sake. Anything like that that adds interest and fills a show out that is generally 99% padding, anyway we can make that exciting I really want to look at."
A big part of the season's transformation will involve the three new faces who will join veteran Randy Jackson on the judge's panel. While new additions Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj have already stirred up some controversy in the media, country music star Keith Urban has thus far managed to slip under the radar. "He is the scratching post between Mariah and Nicki. He sometimes looks like he's watching a tennis match with his head bobbing between the two girls," jokes Lithgoe, but quickly adds "but when it's his turn to speak he gives his mind and he won't put up with anybody else knocking him down. He's had rounds with Mariah, Randy, and Nicki; a big one with Nicki, in truth."
He continues, "Each one of the judges I think is looking for something else this year...I think Nicki is looking for an artist. I think Mariah is looking for the complete singer/songwriter. Randy is looking for somebody that sings on pitch, and Keith isn't just looking for a country star. Keith is looking for an instrumentalist, a good singer, and somebody that can capture that sort of magic charisma, if you will, and connect with the public. They all have their own agendas."
As far as celebrity judges and guest mentor appearances Lythgoe reveals, "Jimmy Lovine is coming back and I do want to go back to where we actually used record producers to help the kids. I want to do that again this year and try and give their journey the same journey that they would have had had they had not had this competition but moved in to the music business. The more I can align it to the music business the stronger it is going to be for them and their journey."
Season 12, contestants will have a lot to live up to if compared to last year's champion Phillip Phillips, whose debut single, 'Home' has soared to the top of the charts. Yet despite that initial success, Lithgoe is reluctant to declare him a bona fide star. "Certainly that song has been one of the biggest but Phillip's still got to prove himself. We can't just sort of jump up and down and go, 'Wow. He's a major star now.' There's a long way to go to be the next Carrie Underwood who's sustained so well, Kelly Clarkson who's sustained so well."
What is the secret to winning American Idol? Lithgoe has his own theory. "It isn't always about the voice," he begins. "It is about charisma, it is about personality, it is about attracting an audience and doing that week on week. If there was an absolute formula to stick to in order to win American Idol we'd have probably found it by now, bottled it, and I'm sure one of the production companies would be selling it but we haven't. It's really what grabs you. Does the story grab you? Does the song of the week grab you? It's a difficult one."
"At the end of the day," he concludes, "when you've got five guys and five girls... it's anybody's game at that stage."
The two night season premiere of American Idol kicks off on Wednesday, January 16th with auditions in New York and Thursday, January 17th with auditions in Chicago both beginning at 8/7c on Fox.
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Photos courtesy of FOX